For Online Ad Companies, the Net's DNA is Advertising. Failure of Serious Democratic Vision for Online
In their Feb. 23, 2012 release praising the Obama Adminitration for supporting "self-regulation" to address threats to consumer privacy online, six powerful trade groups laid bare their own limited vision. In the statement, the groups explain that "...central to the promise of digital media is advertising. While brilliant technologists laid the pipes, it was the promise of profit that has drawn the entrepreneurial energy of millions of our citizens to the Internet. That's no surprise: America is a land of commerce, and advertising is the engine of commerce. American commerce, as Tocqueville noted, "attracts the attention of the public and fills the imagination of the multitude; all energetic passions are directed to it." We see those energetic, advertising-driven passions every day at the IAB. Yes, we see it in the Googles and Yahoos and AOLs and Time-Warners and NBCUniversals and other brand name media companies in our membership...We thank the Administration for supporting the power of business self-regulation."
The groups making this statement included the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the American Advertising Federation, the Direct Marketing Association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Network Advertising Initiative.
The excerpt above is typical of the reductionistic and short-sighted thinking about the Internet and its future coming from the digital marketing lobby. They want us to believe its only commerce that makes the Internet a robust set of mediums that promote debate, dissent, creativity, free expression, etc. Certainly, advertising and marketing have a important role to play. But it's only one part of a diverse system of digital speech that has many parts--and where civil society and non-profit media also plays a crucial role. The online ad industry has helped spawn an automated data profiling and targeting system which threatens the privacy of citizens and consumers across the connected globe. We can expect these lobbyists to wax poetic about self-regulation--despite the inadequacies of the system they devised. But we would expect that there are more informed people inside these associations and their member companies who understand that the Internet is an ecosystem that is more than just its commercial behavior. What's needed are responsible leaders who want to ensure the Internet's growth is preserved through the enactment of laws that protect its citizens-users.
PS: To help illustrate how disengenuous many of these trade groups are about the privacy debate, look over this excerpt from an IAB co-sponsored report on "audience buying" that was released last January. It reveals that the industry's claims that so much of their data isn't really identifiable doesn't hold up (my bold): Despite the challenges inherent in the PII/non-PII divide, some data executives downplay the importance of knowing a prospect’s name and address, arguing that pixel-driven data—insight into what an individual browser does on a website or a platform like Facebook—often brings the sought-after targeting capabilities, even without a consumer name. “A cookie is just as good as an individual ID,” argued an executive at one large media-buying platform. “Knowing what people do through trackable cookies can be very sophisticated and pinpoint those who engage or convert at higher levels by following their behaviors—whether through display, social, a website or viral video.” These strategies are being enabled by large, sophisticated machine networks and algorithms that identify useful signals and patterns of behavior that can’t be found in PII data alone. Ultimately, many said, the consumer’s name and address isn’t as important in raw behavioral data to determine propensity to respond.